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Mrs Henderson Presents (2005)
All-nude but skin-deep and no substance
This film only scratched the surface of what is probably a wonderful story. By focusing on the destestable Mrs. Henderson, the audience never got to know the much more interesting people, like Van Dam, the girls, the singers, etc. Judi Dench does her best, and Bob Hoskins is a delight, but the screeenwriters completely failed at getting us interested in any of these people or the sacrifices they made for their "art". Also, were nudity and homosexuality really that acceptable in the late 30s and 40s, particularly among the upper class? The film also sentimentalizes the sleazy aspect of the whole enterprise, which was equivalent to a "peep show" in a seedy part of Soho, according to a friend of mine, who lived in London in the late 50s. The "tableaus" were no way as beautiful as they are shown in the film. I was very surprised that Frears directed this-it was a little shoddy and the lousy screenplay didn't help, particularly with the stupid subplot about the blonde, which is about as musty as three-day old cheese. All in all, a fair film about a fabulous subject.
The Matador (2005)
As the world and the career turns-a change of pace for Brosnan
This was a mildly entertaining, slightly inconsequential vanity production mounted by Pierce Brosnan to move farther away from his James Bond image. My theory is when actors are locked into suave and debonair playboy or Everyman good-guy roles, they should always play either a hit man for a serial killer. It has worked for a number of people, notably John Travolta and Tom Hanks. Brosnan was terrific, looked really degenerate (ok by me-I like him scruffy), and seemed to be having a ball. Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis were also fine, and I enjoyed the two cameos by Dylan Baker and Philip Baker Hall. This was really a cross between Strangers on a Train and Pulp Fiction, but it did not take the usual turns and had a couple of surprises.
The interesting thing about this film was the totally negative and in my opinion, unwarranted, reaction it received from the audience at a screening of the Talk Cinema series. This series shows films a couple of weeks or months before they are released, in order to get audience feedback, and has 15 venues across the U.S. The audience is comprised of 30-60+ year old well-educated, well-heeled male and female patrons, in Suburban Philadelphia, PA. During the Q&A, following the film, 90% of the audience pronounced it "trash", "garbage", "offensive" and "totally a waste of time". In the five years, since I have been attending the series, I never saw a simple little Indie film get such a visceral response. Apparently, this was shown at many recent film festivals and had good word of mouth.
I will be interested to see if anyone else in Talk Cinema has seen this and what the audience reactions were in their part of the country.
The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
A very slow movie about a very fast Indian
OK, I guess I will be in the distinct minority here. I saw this film as part of the Talk Cinema series. To me, it was a really great story mired in maudlin, sentimental mush. After 1/2 hour, I started checking my watch-a bad sign. The plotting was slow to the point of narcolepsy, the screenplay was fossilized and traditional, with very linear story lines,and no surprises at all, and the directing was conventional, to be charitable. The two best things were the acting, with a superb and charming Sir Anthony Hopkins, in the lead, who will surely be considered at Oscar time, and the gorgeous cinematography, which was amazing in the Bonneville section of the film. This seemed like third-rate Hallmark Hall of Fame family fare claptrap to me, which was such a shame, because this is a truly inspirational man, with an amazing tale to be told. The website for the film is better than the actual film, believe it or not!
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Divorce, American Style
I have seen this film twice, via the NYFF and Talk Cinema. The second time, I was truly amazed by the performances of Owen Kline, (son of Kevin Kline) and Jesse Eisenberg. They set the standard for juvenile acting-unsentimental, intelligent, and fascinating. Both Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels are very strong, and Daniels in particular is a revelation. This is a parallel role to the the character he played in Terms of Endearment, but an older, much more cynical and obnoxious version.
The film is slightly claustrophobic and the jumpy camera and faded film look is a bit disconcerting, but it doesn't take away from Baumbach's absolutely first-rate screenplay, which owes a nod to the fine films of both the French New Wave in the 50s and 60s and current French cinema. A big problem is at the end-the Whale exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in NYC was a faded, dilapidated mess until recently when the whole Wing was updated---there is no way it looked like this in the late 60s.
However a caveat: There is talk of frank sexuality, as well as activities related around sex (not the usual adult sex scenes, mind you, but different) and much verbal profanity in this film, which seemed to offend some of the older members of the audience at Talk Cinema, but not me-I felt it was totally appropriate. This is a very intelligent and mature film, although I think some sophisticated teenagers who have been through divorce would appreciate it.
Breakfast on Pluto (2005)
Extraordinary film from Mr. Jordan
I saw this on 10/2 at the NYFF-we got last minute tickets right up front. Neil Jordan was present at Q&A-an absolute treat. The film was simply wonderful from beginning to end--charming, emotionally satisfying, delicately nuanced and very powerful. The acting was sublime, as in all Jordan films. Cillian Murphy is so impossibly gorgeous and yet so fearless and skillful an actor, who uses his physicality to his supreme advantage. The Irish gang of three-Gleeson, Neeson and Rea, who usually appear in Jordan's films, were superb and touching as usual. There were wonderful casting touches--Bryan Ferry as a sicko, Gaivn Friday as a gay rockabilly, etc. The film was audacious, swerving mightily between broad comedy and grim tragedy. The most arresting elements were the amazing customes and the choice of 60s and 70s songs, something Jordan discussed in detail during the Q&A.
I urge all cineastes to catch this one-you will be amazed and deeply satisfied.
Geuk jang jeon (2005)
A tale of woe, peppered with Marlboros and Hite beer
I got the opportunity to see this at the NYFF-the director was both mysterious and shy in the Q&A so he did not shed much light on this seemingly simple film in concept which becomes complex in the execution(no pun intended). A better name for this film should have been "Sex and Death" as that are its two central subjects. I can't say I "got it" while watching it, but it had a resonance that sneaked up on me later. There is so much smoking and drinking in this film that my chest and head hurt by the end-I felt like I could smell the smoke and the beer. I was not familiar with the director's other films, but I might seek them out at this point, as this film did perplex and fascinate me, exactly what world cinema should do. Seoul looks like a beautiful and ugly place, all at the same time, and the meandering shots added greatly to the film's New Wave-like look.
The Woodsman (2004)
Kevin Bacon is towering in a tough-sell film.....
The journeyman actor Kevin Bacon blows most of the current Oscar Best Actor competition out of the water with his searing portrayal of a paroled pedophile in The Woodsman. The difficult subject matter may spell box-office suicide for this film, particularly at Christmas time. However, if Newmarket Films is smart, they will market this the same way Monster was promoted for Charlize Theron's performance.
Bacon employs a minimalist acting style and submerges himself into this complex character, on the strength of his physicality alone. Thin and gaunt, hair darkened, eyes dead, and jaw severely set, Bacon doesn't waste a facial muscle or telegraph anything more than necessary. He allows us to get into the character's head piece by piece, and it's not always a pleasant place to be. Bacon is uncompromising in his refusal to make anything about the character trivial and sentimental, and that is the key to his success in making Walter such a vivid, believable man.
The screenplay seems to almost be stripped bare, with little actually revealed through dialogue. However, monologues are used to great effect.
Bacon's mesmerizing performance is enhanced by astute direction from first-timer Nicole Kassell, who also adapted the screenplay with the original playwright, Steven Fechter. The cast is superb-Benjamin Bratt, Kyra Sedgwick, David Alan Grier, the beautiful Eve, and best of all, Mos Def, who steals virtually every scene he is in against Bacon, no small task. for those celebrity-watchers, Madonna's baby's daddy, Carlos Leon (father of Lourdes) is in a few scenes.
This is a must-see for Bacon's work, and for the tasteful, intelligent way the subject matter is handled. In short, Tough material, good solid film.